The Energising Disruption of Energy Storage

To harness the full potential of renewable energy, it needs to be available on demand

Minter Dial, president of The Myndset Company, lays out the case for investing in new ways of storing this energy.

There are some technologies that tend to get all the press and hype. With the plethoric choice of new technological areas cropping up, it can be hard to know which are truly going to be the most important and disruptive forces for your industry.  Sometimes, it’s blatantly obvious, such as if you are in the car business and the arrival of autonomous cars and ride sharing apps are all the rage. Other times, there are some technologies that lie low, yet still may have a quantum impact. Such technologies may not be ‘new’ per se but, with the latest advancements in science, are absolutely on the cusp of creating sizeable disruption.

There are currently four such areas. . .

With genomics, AI and the blockchain being three. However, the one that lies most below the radar is energy storage. I believe the fast-approaching improvements in storage capabilities will be important, in particular, in four cases:

1. For protection of the environment through energy conservation resources

2. For enhancing mobility by powering cars, smartphones and wearable tech

3. For driving the development of the Internet of Things (IoT)

4. For space exploration

In terms of both investment and projected market revenues, the energy storage area is clearly in fast growth mode. In terms of its importance to a heavily industrialised society trying to wean itself off oil dependence, the range of potential uses for energy storage is also huge and significant.

On the one hand, improved energy storage will help propel much greater space exploration, led by a trio of entrepreneurial demigods through the initiatives of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Enhanced energy storage will also materially impact satellites.

More terrestrially, we’ll see applications to all modes of transportation, including planes, boats (Enza New Zealand, for example) and, of course, cars. But, the science of miniaturisation is also going to help boost energy storage technology and greatly enhance mobility. Among other centres of research, a team from King Abdullah University of Science  and Technology in Saudi Arabia has created efficient batteries that measure a few micrometres [1]. These new micro supercapacitors will be an obvious boost to wearable tech and also be critical to the broader development of the Internet of Things, where items will need minute units of energy in order to remain autonomous for long periods.

The environmental challenge

As much as climate change and the finite nature of fossil fuels has brought great advancements in renewable energy, the burgeoning challenge has been on the ability to efficiently convert, save and distribute energy for when it is needed. Energy storage is set to play a pivotal role at many levels.

Energy storage will become a matter of strategic importance for countries wanting to improve their autonomy. Speaking at the launch of the Faraday Challenge, a new UK government initiative [2], Professor Philip Nelson, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) said, “Batteries will form a cornerstone of  a low-carbon economy, whether in cars, aircraft, consumer electronics, district or grid storage. To deliver the UK’s low- carbon economy, we must consolidate and grow our capabilities in novel battery technology.”

The global impact of energy storage

There are three different groups that will be affected – if not disrupted – by the rise in importance of energy storage. The first and most obvious relates to those actually producing and storing energy.  The second are those sectors that create products that need access to energy. The third are those business and households whose working and living environments use energy

In this last group, you can include basically everyone. Energy storage advances will dramatically alter the conception and design of office spaces, manufacturing plants and homes. In living and working spaces, for example, we will see the spawning of storage and charging zones. In 2015, IKEA developed a series of lamps and tables that enable easy phone charging in the home. Waiting areas, stores, cafes, restaurants and hotels – to name but a few – will also have to follow suit.

Key actions, sector by sector

As excerpted from my book, Futureproof, each of the three groups will face important questions. For those directly involved in the production of energy, there are important and near- term strategic actions to take:

  • Evaluate the impact of energy storage on your business model
  • Search for new talent in energy storage
  • Identify potential non-traditional competitors within this sector
  • Brainstorm to seek innovative and durable competitive advantages
  • Check on your safety and legal responsibilities relating to it

For businesses whose products and services are directly associated with energy storage, there are other important questions to be asked over the near-to- medium term:

  • How will products that require energy – printers, refrigerators, electric razors, toys – have to be adapted?
  • How will the usage of products that require energy change with the enhanced mobility now available to them?
  • What are the implications in terms of legislation and administration?
  • What new products and services will be possible and/or required with enhanced and cheaper energy storage capabilities?

For businesses in general, even if energy storage is not a central part of your enterprise, here are the types of questions you need to be asking yourself over the longer term:

  • How will work ow and the office space be impacted?
    How can energy costs be reduced using emerging forms of energy storage?
  • How might commuting and transportation be changed?
  • How can overheads be reduced and productivity increased?
  • Do you or your business want to make a choice to go solar?

Energy storage is surely an energising area for all future-facing businesses to be focusing on. The opportunities it will create and the disruption to all sectors will be vast in scope and scale.

Minter Dial is the president and founder of the boutique agency, The Myndset Company. He is an international professional speaker and consultant on branding and digital strategy, working with brands including Samsung and Remy Cointreau. His latest book, Futureproof: How to get your business ready for the next disruption, is published by Pearson this month